JOPLIN, Mo. —
At some point in your parenting career, you've probably been struck by sleep disturbances, either from a baby who won't fall asleep anywhere but on your reclining torso, a toddler who refuses to stay in her own room or a preschooler who's started wetting the bed.
Chances are good that you've had to get creative to make sleep happen. And chances are even better that it's made you a little bit crazy in the meantime.
At our house, our kindergartner is giving us a run for our sleep. She's become more and more nervous at night until she's ended up sleeping with her closet door wide open, light blazing.
But instead of helping her sleep more comfortably, it's only made things worse. She wakes at all hours, unable to banish the scary thoughts from her head. Therefore, she wakes her parents at all hours, too. There's only so much bravery a 6-year-old can stockpile, and by 2 a.m., the bravery is running dry.
I've been less than graceful a few times during our most recent sleep mess. My patience is directly correlated to the hours of sleep I can manage, so by the third or fourth wake-up of the night, I'm close to zombiehood. No wonder my daughter is terrified.
We've lived with a general sleep deficit for the past eight and a half years, so we have something of a workable system in place for when new issues arise.
On night one, we're accommodating. We are lullaby singers. We are beacons of encouragement and support.
On night three, we're frustrated. Haven't we been patient long enough? Shouldn't this problem be solved by now? Don't we deserve some rest?
On night five, we're lost souls. We can't remember life before the sleep issue. We hate the world. We want earplugs.
Somewhere around night seven, hope dawns bright and pearly in our weary minds. We remember the right way to handle the issue. We remember that all of our reactions are just us treading water to keep from drowning. We remember that reacting to the problem isn't the same as solving it. So we get to work.
The way to solve a problem is to start asking questions. What's the heart of the issue? What does she fear? What caused the change? What would be helpful?
We ask questions to gain a clear picture and then we tweak things. After any successes or failures, we reevaluate. It can be a long process, but we don't feel quite so hopeless anymore because we have a plan. We're no longer treading water. We're steering a boat, and there is rest on the opposite shore.
Our recent questioning has led us to close the bright closet door, reminding our daughter's brain that it's still nighttime. We have a star chart with a family ice-cream date promised after 10 good nights. We've added extra bedroom time to help her feel cozy in her own space.
We're on night six of good sleep, so something's working, and we'll have a fresh supply of brain cells to think up some changes if the plan goes wonky.
We don't know if we have a winning combination yet. But because we're solving problems rather than merely reacting, we know we'll get there soon.
Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.blogspot. com.